Menopause Hot Flashes, Common Symptom
Occurring at the average age of 51 in the U.S., more than 50 million women have already reached menopause, and currently experience many of the uncomfortable symptoms that accompany this period of life. In fact, studies indicate that 80% of American women experience hot flashes during the perimenopausal and postmenopausal phases of life. Because menopause is technically not complete until a woman ceases menstruation for 12 consecutive months, the process of menopause can last several years.
Hot Flashes Menopause and Changing Hormones
Hot flashes, also sometimes referred to as, “hot flushes” may occur suddenly, and affect the face, neck and torso of the body, as heat rises from the skin, often followed by sweating and cold shivering.
Hot flashes, while present in about 80% to 90% of postmenopausal women may also occur with other symptoms such as heart palpitations and anxiety as well. While scientists don’t know for sure the exact causes of hot flashes in menopausal women, they do believe that changes in hormone levels, including estradiol, signal the brain’s hypothalamus, the temperature regulation center, causing blood vessels to dilate and uncomfortable symptoms to occur.
While menopause itself is a natural part of a woman’s life, requiring no medical intervention, some symptoms may become too uncomfortable and difficult to manage.
Menopause and Hot Flashes, The Impact on Women
While some physicians may dismiss hot flashes as a minor discomfort, women can experience disruptive symptoms for more than 10 years.
Hot flashes affect women in a variety of ways and may upset the balance of their daily lives due to:
- Disruption in sleep
- Morning fatigue caused by sleep disturbance
- Difficulty concentrating due to lack of sleep
- Irritability from sleep deprivation
- Inability to get cool at work or in public
- Excessive sweating (associated with hot flashes)
- Anxiety, headache, or dizziness (that accompany hot flashes)
- Embarrassment over red face/cheeks/neck/arms
- Incompatible room temperature needs with other family members
Hot Flashes Treatment
Treatment for hot flashes in women may include the following:
- Hormone replacement therapy—Hormone replacement therapy generally consists of monitored doses of estrogen, progesterone, or a combination of both, administered through a patch, pills, creams, gels, or lotions. As early as the 1940’s, supplementation with estrogen was approved for the treatment of symptoms triggered by a decrease in hormone levels during menopause. A drop in estrogen likely leads to the vasomotor (affecting blood vessel dilation) response that causes hot flashes.
- Antidepressants—The antidepressant, Venlafaxine (trade name Effexor) has been found to relieve hot flashes in menopausal women, just as well as hormone replacement therapy in many cases. The SSRI, fluoxetine (Prozac), or sertraline (Zoloft) may help ease hot flashes as well.
- Other pharmaceuticals—Gabapentin (Neurontin), approved to treat seizure disorders, may also help reduce hot flashes in menopausal women.
Herbal/nutritional supplements—While the efficacy of natural herbal treatments for menopausal symptoms does vary, many women find relief from hot flashes by taking the following:
- Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa or Actaea racemosa)
- Pycnogenol (Pinus pinaster), an extract of pine bark
- Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
- Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
* It is important to note that each of these natural supplements can interact with over-the-counter and prescription medications and should not be taken without a physician’s approval.
- Complementary therapies such as tai chi, yoga, acupuncture, meditation, hypnosis, chiropractic, deep tissue massage, and acupressure may be helpful in mitigating hot flashes in some women.
- Diet and Exercise—Weight bearing exercise such as, walking may help reduce the frequency of hot flashes. A diet low in sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and fat may also improve menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes. Some evidence suggests that soy-based foods are beneficial for hot flashes as well.
- Stellate ganglion block (SGB) refers to treatment with an anesthetic, injected into a collection of nerves located on either side of the voice box in the neck. This may be effective in resetting the body’s temperature mechanism.
Remedies For Hot Flashes, Practical Lifestyle Changes
- Avoid spicy foods
- Do not drink alcohol
- Limit caffeine
- Try to avoid stress
- Dress in comfortable, cool, breathable fabrics (cotton)
- Avoid warm places for long periods of time
- Use a fan at home or work
- Dress in layers and remove some at the first sign of hot flashes
- Consider pharmaceuticals: These may include medications that are generally prescribed for other medical conditions such as epilepsy, depression, or high blood pressure.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does each stage of menopause last?
Perimenopause—This is the early stage preceding actual menopause when estrogen and progesterone levels gradually decrease. This can last 4 to 5 years.
Menopause—Technically menopause is complete when a woman has not menstruated for 12 consecutive months.
Postmenopause—The period following menopause through the remainder of a woman’s life is considered “postmenopausal”.
At what age does menopause generally begin and end?
This varies, however most women begin perimenopause somewhere in their mid 40’s and complete menopause in their early to mid 50’s.
Are there differences in menopausal symptoms between different cultures?
Yes, 80% of American women experience hot flashes for example, while only about 10% of Japanese women report the same. This may be due to differences in diet, lifestyle, and attitudes toward aging.
How do I know if I have entered menopause?
If you are a woman in your 40’s and begin to experience changes in your menstrual cycle, you are likely perimenopausal. Hormone testing can also confirm whether or not you have begun menopause.
Will I have symptoms of menopause if I have my ovaries surgically removed?
Yes, surgical menopause may bring about sudden physical symptoms such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood swings.
If my mother experienced menopause at an early age, does that mean I will too?
There is evidence to suggest that the timing of menopause is hereditary, though every woman is different.
Are hot flashes after menopause common?
Yes, some women continue to experience occasional hot flashes into their late 80’s, though they are much less frequent.
Do hot flashes in men also occur?
Yes, men may experience similar sensations due to hormonal changes as well.
While millions of women experience the many changes associated with menopause and decreasing estrogen and progesterone levels every day, each must find the right combination of medical and complementary solutions to fit their individual needs. Finding optimal health, comfort, and well-being in every stage of life is important for every woman.
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